sat 20/07/2024

Romanzo Criminale, Sky Arts 1 | reviews, news & interviews

Romanzo Criminale, Sky Arts 1

Romanzo Criminale, Sky Arts 1

Italian police procedural is in love with its handsome gang of young villains

Francesco Montanari as Lebanese, a black-hearted young gang leader in 'Romanzo Criminale'

Unless one has been misreading the policy stylings of the oddly named "Nigel Farage" and his merry band of isolationists, the general idea behind UKIP is that Nothing Good ever came out of Europe. Party members may therefore wish to pursue a blanket avoidance of decent crime drama, almost all of which comes from our continental neighbours. First there was The Killing which went on more or less forever and was more addictive than crack. Spiral was barely less cultish.

And after the entries from Denmark and France, now a succulent Italian crime drama takes its turn to stick around for an insistently long stint.

Romanzo Criminale – the title literally means “crime novel” – is adapted from a bestselling crime novel by author-judge Giancarlo De Cataldo which flew off the shelves in 2002. Loosely based on the activities of a criminal gang who in the 1970s set out to run Rome and found themselves lured towards the epicentre of Italy’s sick body politic, it has already been the subject of a film version, but such has been its moreish impact on Italian audiences that they happily stuck around for the 22-hour televisual reboot.

The show opened last week as it presumably means to go on. An old codger was being thwacked to bits on the streets of a modern Roman suburb. Blood flew from his nose and mouth (suggest you get used to this). He picked himself up, dusted himself down, located his assailants in a café and shot one of them in the knee, then in the chest. “I ran with Lebanese!” he screamed to no one in particular, the street having swiftly emptied.

Romanzo CriminaleWe then spooled back through the retro-credits to the year of our Lord 1977. The radio brought news of the Red Brigade, while out on the streets students were rioting against police brutality. Lebanese – Il Libanese, as they call him in Italian (played by Francesco Montanari) – rounded up his gang to heist a lorry-load of Olivetti typewriters. It all went a bit tits up, but Lebanese is a young thug with a pitch-black heart and was soon using the slender profits to buy guns. Later, when a moneybags the gang had kidnapped was accidentally killed by his hired captors, the hired captors were themselves killed, not accidentally.

By last night’s second episode, having teamed up with another mob led by a cold-blooded strategist called, appropriately, Ice (Freddo), Lebanese had formed the nucleus of the Banda della Magliana. They are still basically incompetent, mind. Two junior members buried a body where they assumed no one would find it, only to discover that the remote plot was planned for an upscale development. One of the gang wanted to spend his earnings on a highly conspicuous Porsche, strictly in contravention of the group ethos of pooling their winnings, driving around in clapped-out bangers and living in trailers.

It would be unwise to hope for any of the chillier flavours of other Euro-cop shows. Romanzo Criminale is hot-tempered, noisy, gobby, flashy: in short, Italian, if you’ll pardon the stereotyping – much more Italian, in point of fact, than the late, lamented Zen. Strictly speaking it’s not even a cop show, not yet. We’ve been tailing the lushly moustachioed detective Scialoja (Marco Bocci, pictured above), suspected by his colleagues of being a commie, but there aren’t many leads for him to go on as yet for all his snooping around with a long lens. No doubt he’ll start to reel the Banda in, but for the moment it’s a case of watching them build an empire and muscle in with the arrogance of youth on the territory of older rival bosses.

It looks terrific, steeped in the tacky atmospherics of 1970s Rome. Every historical detail feels exactly right, down to the not so natty threads and period centre-partings. Last night brought a highly promising development with the introduction of a female character – Patrizia (Daniele Virgilio, pictured above), a toothsome squeeze for the gang’s snake-hipped clothes horse known as Dandi. So far she seems to be contractually obliged to wear nothing. Lebanese remains unimpressed at Dandi's mooning: “Does she have two tongues, four tits?” But then Lebanese doesn’t have time for women, not even his lonely mamma whose food he has no time to eat, and you suspect he never will.

Stefano Sollima directs with energetic flair and a nose for comedy. These cocksure young men are as much buffoons as hoodlums, bickering over who gets to ride the Vespa after demanding a ransom, high-fiving after a stick-up. There was a lovely scene where the three leaders bonded over an al-fresco piss that felt at once both contrived and illustrative of, believe it or not, their vulnerability. Along with the laughs there will be bankrobbing, kidnapping, drug-running and, where necessary, murdering. So far it seems to be necessary at least twice an episode. The tricky dilemma is that you are already rooting for these pitiless villains, who ended episode two with an innocent kickabout on the beach. How many hours it’ll take to go off them will of course be part of the drama.

This is hot-tempered, noisy, gobby, flashy: in short, Italian, if you’ll pardon the stereotyping

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Yes you have been misreading UKIP policy statements. And it's Nigel "Farage" by the way.....

UKIP is not isolationist. Far from it as it seeks to extend business and cultural relationships far wider than currently possible as a member of the EU. UKIP is a fan of Europe but believes that it is its diversity both economically and culturally which makes it such a unique place. It objects to the EU attempts to destroy this diversity and the democratic traditions of sovereign states. Therefore a poor attempt by the writer to make a cheap political point which is out of context.

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